Royal Wedding: Top 8 London Sights

A royal tour of your own before William and Kate marry.

Nov. 18, 2010 — -- With all the excitement of the engagement and upcoming Royal Wedding of H.R.H. Prince William and Kate Middleton, there is no better time to plan your own "Royal Engagement" in London.

According to Visit London, the official visitor organization, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana 30 years ago brought an additional 600,000 visitors to the capital. With the popularity of Prince William and Kate, they predict significantly more interest.

So start planning now, as London and the surrounding areas offer many options for enjoying the incredibly rich history of England's Royal Family.

From the torture chambers of the Tower of London to the elegance of Hampton Court and natural beauty of Kew Gardens, has put together a list of top eight royal sites:

Buckingham Palace: Grandeur in the Heart of London

Buckingham Palace was built in 1702 and has been a home to various members of the Royal Family ever since. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to take up residence in Buckingham Palace in 1837. Today the palace serves as the London residence of Queen Elizabeth II, as well as the administrative headquarters of the Royal Household. It is one of the few working royal palaces remaining in the world today.

There are many opportunities to enjoy Buckingham Palace without even going inside. You can watch the spectacular Changing of the Guard that happens each morning at 11:30 a.m.

For most of the year, you can tour The Queen's Gallery, a permanent space dedicated to changing exhibitions of items from the Royal Collection. Shaped by the personal tastes of kings and queens over more than 500 years, the Royal Collection includes paintings, drawings and watercolors, furniture, ceramics, clocks, silver, sculpture, jewelry, books, manuscripts, prints and maps, arms and armor, fans, and textiles.

During August and September, Buckingham Palace is open to the public for viewings of the State Rooms, the heart of the working palace. They are lavishly furnished with some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection -- paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin and Canaletto; sculpture by Canova; exquisite examples of Sevres porcelain; and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world.

The Royal Mews: See the Carriage for the Wedding Day

For a preview of the Royal Carriage, check out the Royal Mews, which is also part of Buckingham Palace. The Royal Mews houses the state vehicles, both horse-drawn carriages and motor cars, used for coronations, state visits, royal weddings, the State Opening of Parliament and official engagements.

You can see the gold state coach which was last used during the queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002 – will this be what takes Prince William and Kate to their wedding?

For most of the year you can also see the working horses that play an important role in the queen's official and ceremonial duties.

Windsor Castle: The Country House

Windsor Castle, the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world, encapsulates 900 years of British history. It covers an area of 26 acres and contains, as well as a royal palace, the magnificent St. George's chapel and much more.

Highlights include Queen Mary's Dolls' House, the most famous dollhouse in the world. It took three years to complete and involved 1,500 craftsmen, artists and authors. The dollhouse has electric lighting, hot and cold running water, and even flushing lavatories.

It is also possible to arrange a tour of the kitchen at Windsor Castle, which takes you to areas not normally open to the public and provides a fascinating insight into the behind-the-scenes life of the castle.

Clarence House: Will's Home (for Now)

If you are really planning ahead, you can book tours for August 2011 of Clarence House, the official residence of Princes William and Harry and home to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Located on The Mall, just opposite St. James's Park in London, visitors to Clarence House are guided around the five ground-floor rooms where the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (the former Camilla Parker Bowles) hold official engagements and receive guests from around the world.

Clarence House displays much of Queen Elizabeth's famous art collection, including outstanding 20th-century paintings John Piper, Graham Sutherland, W.S. Sickert and Augustus John. Superb examples of Faberge, English porcelain and silver are also on display.

The Tower of London: Home to the Jewels and the Cruel

Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is one of the world's most famous buildings and a must for those fascinated with the Royal Family.

Take a tour with one of the Yeoman Warders around the tower and learn about its 900-year history as a royal palace, prison and place of execution, arsenal, jewel house and even a zoo.

The Medieval Palace, the royal residence where 14th-century kings including Henry III and Edward I lived, has been restored with replica furniture, art and even infused with some medieval smells and sounds.

See where where famous prisoners, such as Guy Fawkes and Ann Boleyn, were held, and see where they were executed. Learn where the phrase "sent to the Tower" comes from. The Tower has a vast display of replicas of torture instruments known to have been used on traitors in centuries past.

You also can be dazzled by the over 23,000 gems that make up the Crown Jewels, including the glistening Imperial State Crown, which alone has 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and five rubies. This astonishing collection of priceless Coronation regalia is definitely a highlight, and we can wonder what William will give to Kate to add to it.

Hampton Court: Henry VIII Slept Here

Originally built in 1525 by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Hampton Court Palace was given to King Henry VIII, who greatly expanded the property. The Palace is a mixture of Tudor and English Baroque architecture set amid 60 acres of spectacular gardens, including the famous Hampton Court Maze.

You can see the King's apartments and the Tudor kitchens, and depending on when you go you can even try an authentic Tudor meal.

There are several exhibitions of note, including one that explains the history of the palace, and one on the history of the gardens. A permanent audio installation uses sounds to showcase the idea of mazes as places for conversation and flirtation.

Originally planted around 1700, the Maze was a place for courtiers to escape the politics of palace life, losing themselves in its enchanting labyrinths. Containing over half a mile of paths, covering a third of an acre, it is the oldest surviving hedge maze in the world. You can try it yourself and should be able solve it in less than twenty minutes.

Kensington Palace: Home of Princess Diana and the Royal Fashions

Purchased by William and Mary in 1689, Kensington Palace also went through a series of transformations, first by Sir Christopher Wren, who extended the Jacobean mansion to palatial proportions, and again in the reign of George I, when William Kent added the intricate trompe l'oeil ceilings and staircases.

Today the palace is once again under renovation, and on exhibition is "The Enchanted Palace," a unique multimedia experience with a particular focus on fashion, where leading designers have each created spectacular installations, taking inspiration from Kensington Palace and the princesses who once lived there -- Mary, Anne, Caroline, Charlotte, Victoria, Margaret and Diana.

These extraordinary contemporary designs are displayed alongside historic items from the Royal Collection and Kensington Palace's Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, together with two dresses worn by Diana, Princess of Wales and Princess Margaret. For those of you fantasizing about what the new Princess Kate will be wearing, this exhibition is not to be missed.

Kew Palace and Kew Gardens: The Royal Greens

Though the delightful and quaint (for royalty) Kew Palace is under renovation through April 2011, it is worth a trip to the beautiful and expansive Royal Botanic Gardens.

Home to the largest collection of plants -- more than 30,000 living varieties and another 7 million preserved plant specimens. Learn about the history of these more than 300 acres of gardens and enjoy a recent addition, the Xstrata treetop walk, providing a unique perspective of the flora and fauna from 250 feet up.